A contemporary speculative and sci-fi recommended reading list

The Weekly Roundup, April 13 – 20

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4 minute read
Monáe is dressed in white with black accents, singing into a mic, on stage, with lights and a banner behind her.
Janelle Monáe performs at Way Out West 2014 in Gothenburg, Sweden. (Photo by Kim Metso via Wikimedia Commons.)

Janelle Monáe is dropping a new book on April 19, and I’ve been looking forward to its release ever since it was first announced. I’ve long appreciated her storytelling through music, from first hearing her stand-out feature on the 2006 Outkast album Idlewild to her Afrofuturistic story arc of android Cindi Mayweather. I fell for the Dirty Computer emotion picture, which felt like a love letter to Daft Punk’s Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem—I think about both often, and my appreciation of Monáe’s work runs deep.

This week, I wanted to celebrate the release of The Memory Librarian with a roundup of some contemporary science fiction books perfect for reading sessions in the park, on the porch, on the stoop, or wherever you go to catch some spring rays. These books might also be perfect for Easter weekend, regardless of if you celebrate or not.

Remember to support your local bookstore!

The Memory Librarian: And Other Stories of Dirty Computer by Janelle Monáe

The 2018 album Dirty Computer gets a companion with the Afrofuturistic collection of short stories. Monáe does it all, and the musician, actor, and fashion icon’s new book “explores how different threads of liberation—queerness, race, gender plurality, and love—become tangled with future possibilities of memory and time in a totalitarian landscape, and what the costs might be when trying to unravel and weave them into freedoms.” The short stories by Monáe are accompanied by contributions from Alaya Dawn Johnson, Danny Lore, Eve L. Ewing, Yohanca Delgado, and Sheree Renée Thomas, bringing a wide-ranging exploration of a world of self-expression and self-understanding in a dystopian world where people’s memories can be controlled or erased.

The book releases on April 19 and is available for pre-order. An audiobook version will be available as well. Monáe is also doing a short tour with the book, and while she’s not making a trip to Philly, she does make a stop in NYC and DC for anyone who may be interested.

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

The 2010 release from Nigerian-American writer Nnedi Okorafor takes place in post-apocalyptic Sudan, where a woman who has survived the annihilation of her village gives birth to a daughter, Onyesonwu, who has a unique magic that grows as she gets older. Soon, she realizes she must go on a quest to defeat her sorcerous father. This is probably the heaviest book on the list, so proceed with caution.

The book was optioned for an HBO television series, with George R. R. Martin and Tessa Thompson tagged as executive producers. No release date has been set yet.

Octavia’s Brood by adrienne maree brown and Walidah Imarisha

“Whenever we envision a world without war, without prisons, without capitalism, we are producing speculative fiction.” That’s the opening line for the description of Octavia’s Brood, a collection of short stories that explores the connections between radical speculative fiction and movements for social change. This anthology isn’t limited to sci-fi, spanning across fantasy, horror, and magical realism. A nod to Octavia Butler, the book is a unified attempt to “inject a healthy dose of imagination and innovation into our political practice and to try new ways of understanding ourselves, the world around us, and all the selves and worlds that could be.”

Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi

Perhaps more fantasy and magical realism than science fiction, Onyebuchi’s first novel for adults tells the story of Ella, who has a Thing. This Thing is magical, and is powerful enough to wreck entire cities. When her brother is incarcerated, Ella has many decisions to make, and her future might alter the entire world.

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf (The Tribe) by Ambelin Kwaymullina

What happens when children develop inexplicable abilities and the government sees them as a threat? What happens after when a tribe of fellow “illegals” take refuge and are betrayed by someone within, leading to their capture? And then what happens when one of them, Ashala, is forced to have secrets pulled from her mind by a machine? All these questions and more are answered in Ambelin Kwaymullina’s first book of The Tribe dystopian trilogy.

A Thousand Beginnings and Endings, edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman

Fifteen authors reimagine the folklore and mythology of East and South Asia in this anthology of short stories. Compiled by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman, the collection blends an assortment of fantasy, science fiction, romance, and revenge stories that are “enchanting, heartbreaking, romantic, and passionate” tales of star-crossed lovers, meddling immortals, feigned identities, battles of wits, and dire warnings.

The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet and Other Stories by Vandana Singh

A woman discovers she’s inhabited by small alien creatures. A young girl comes across a mysterious tetrahedron on her way to class in Delhi. A woman dreams of water and serpents as a means to understand her own family’s legacy. These and other speculative stories populate the anthology from Vandana Singh, who is regarded as the first Indian woman speculative fiction writer.

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